Not to be Overlooked
By Nayisha Patel and Natalia Alvarez
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner and The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg.
Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner
A narrative of food, tragedy and perseverance, Michelle Zauner's memoir is both beautiful and heartbreaking. She goes into great depth about her life – from being raised as a Korean-American child in Oregon, to starting a band and playing shows all over the country. Her mother, whose terminal disease was discovered while Michelle was just twenty-five-years-old, is the main subject of her narrative.
She talks about how she and her mother had a special bond and how their shared love of food would frequently bring them together when other things did not go as planned. Crying in H-Mart is such an intimate and distinctive narrative. It never shies away from a subject – no matter how challenging. It is unpolished and messy. The "ugly" aspect of mourning isn't avoided by Zauner; she talks about how she felt vindictive and envious of her father or some of her mother's friends.
The Korean-American author and musician struggles with her identity and how the death of her mother, who was the foundation of her Korean heritage, has affected it. She doesn't feel entirely American or Korean, and as she misses her deceased mother, this sense of disconnection grows more pronounced. Michelle considers her background and is open about the relationship she had with her mother throughout her turbulent adolescence. The strict love of her mother, which at times felt smothering, and the perfectionism she pursued had a significant effect on Michelle.
This was the closest I've been to crying while reading something in a long time. The writing in Crying in H-Mart is straightforward yet incredibly beautiful, and it taught me a lot about Korean culture and cuisine. The unfathomable depth of that sadness and the injustice of the reality that unconditional love can suddenly vanish from your life for good when you're not even a fully-fledged adult are both captured in this novel.
I appreciated her candour in discussing their difficulties and, even more, her capacity for reflection, which allowed her to interpret her mother's behaviours as eventually being an expression of deep love. What it means to be Asian in America compared to your "home country" and how you never fully fit in there as well as how locals there always see you as an outsider were topics that I found very interesting. Aside from that, this book is real and emotional and doesn't hold back when discussing Zauner's mother's cancer struggle, how bad it got and how it drastically altered every area of Zauner's life in a matter of months.
The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg
Danish author Katrine Engberg’s newest crime novel The Butterfly House has proven to be the perfect book to curl up with and lose track of time. The Butterfly House is the second instalment in Engberg’s crime series following her debut novel and first in this series titled The Tenant. It follows two Copenhagen-based police officers, Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner, as they uncover grisly murders and sleuth through every inch of Copenhagen in search of the truth. While the protagonists in this series are the same, that does not necessarily mean they must be read in order. I liked this aspect as there are none of the usual pressures that come with tackling a series.
The Butterfly House finds this crime fighting duo forced to work separately on a particularly disturbing series of murders in the Copenhagen backdrop. The team is called when a series of murders hit the city. It begins when a body is discovered in a fountain and more disturbing, it has been drained of all its blood using the method of inflicting tiny cuts all over the victim’s body. This quickly leads them to the discovery of ties to an organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of young adults suffering with mental illness. Anette is on maternity leave while Jeppe is assigned a new partner for the time being. Anette’s inability to aid Jeppe in person does not stop her from conducting her own research off the record and, despite their distance, the duo proves the effectiveness of their bond and readers grow to love the engaging personalities of Engberg’s protagonists.
I loved getting to know Anette and Jeppe as the author introduces more aspects of their personal lives, creating a world where you feel you know the protagonists personally. This is perfect for a series such as this one, where the focus is on the mystery at hand, but the lives of the characters have become so intertwined, you keep coming back to read more of their adventures together. I would highly recommend The Butterfly House and would also encourage readers to pick up The Tenant as well if they find they have the time to read both!